Comfortable and Furious

Disaster, 70’s Style: Part 3

Movie: Airport (1975)

“You mean, the stewardess is flying the plane?!” Airport 1975

Preamble: Heart attacks regularly pop up in disaster flicks. They’re convenient, can happen at any stress-related time, and are cheap to film. Here a bloke flying a light aircraft is having ticker trouble. Seconds later his twin-engine motorized gnat crashed into a jetliner containing one hundred and twenty suckers and knocked out all the pilots. Game on.

Is a doomsayer ignored? Given everything’s down to a tragic accident, there’s no chance for anyone to sound the alarm. Shit happens and all that.

How do the special effects hold up? The initial collision isn’t well done, utilizing back projection for the approach of the out-of-control light aircraft and a dummy being sucked out of the 747’s cockpit. Indeed, the regular use of back projection and its grainier film stock whenever another aircraft comes close is blatant. Frankly, it feels like a TV movie.

Does a child die? Linda Blair plays a cheery kidney transplant patient and all-round adorable youngster. If ten nuclear-tipped missiles were fired at the plane, she would survive. There’s also a metal-toothed kid traveling with his slightly cheesed-off mum. He wears a tie and often provides a running commentary on shit we already know. After the collision, he’s the one doing the reassuring. “Remember, the 747 is the best aircraft ever made,” he tells his mom. “It can almost fly by itself.” Oh, Christ, please die. 

Most ridiculous character/relationship: Well, a singing nun both catches the eye and offends the ear. The scene where she trills a bloody awkward paean to self-love (“I’m as nice to me as anyone I know“) while strumming a guitar as the supine Linda Blair happily listens would have to rank among the most teeth-gritting of my life. Indeed, Airport 75’s first forty minutes are peppered with inanity and not easy to sit through. Onboard there’s a dog-smuggler, a lush, a pair of old biddies tittering over a racy book, a bit-part actor trying to catch his performance in the in-flight movie, an attempt at comic support from three aging drunken bums and, most bizarrely of all, Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson playing herself while carrying a bombproof case. None of this ‘colorful’ lot has any role to play once the disaster gets underway.

Worst line: Airport 75 has plenty of odd dialogue, especially early on, but sometimes it’s plain redundant. Upon seeing Blair wheeled onto the plane the nun explains to her fellow penguin sitting alongside: “It’s a young girl.” Thanks for that clarification, ma’am. And there was me thinking she was a senile old man.

Is Kennedy, Borgnine or Heston in it? Since Earthquake, Heston’s fortunes have dipped a little in that he’s gone from the lithe, uncomplicated, much younger Genevieve Bujold to the pushy, odd-looking stewardess Karen Black. He’s also started wearing a turtleneck lemon sweater. Chuck, honey, that’s not flattering. Anyway, he’s an ace flight instructor, required to constantly patronize Black while saving the day. 

Kennedy plays the same gruff character he did in Airport, except he no longer chomps on cigars. Given this is his second disaster and his wife and metal-toothed son are aboard this particular stricken plane, I’m starting to think he’s a jinx.

Funniest death: ‘Fraid not. We only get three deaths and they’re chuckle-free.

Who shits their pants or goes mad? Mass panic and greedy, sociopathic shitkickers getting their just desserts are staples of the sub-genre, but Airport 75 badly fails in this regard. There are no villains anywhere. Blandness reigns supreme.

The inevitable self-sacrifice: Another notable failure.

What does the token black do? A black passenger gets precisely one line. It’s sport-related. Oh, wait a sec, there’s also a black fellah in the helicopter rescue crew. His role calls for him to be as pessimistic as possible. “I must’ve made twenty drops in Nam, sir,” he tells a replacement pilot about to undertake a highly dangerous attempt at a midair transfer, “but what you’re gonna do scares the hell out of me.” Thanks for that vote of confidence, mate. Sure enough, the pilot gets splatted, leaving Chuck to stick out his chest and get on with the business of being the manly hero. Luckily, he also gets some last-minute encouragement from our black friend: “This is just plain suicide, sir.”

Conclusion: In the world of the disaster movie, men are in charge. Women tend to scream, dissolve into hysterics and occasionally get slapped, their ilk typified by Poseidon’s Carol Lynley who can’t swim and struggles to even climb a ladder. Airport 1975 could have dealt a resounding blow to this epidemic of Silly Girlies when it placed trolley dolly Karen Black in the cockpit. A prime candidate for a Strong Female Role, yes? Unfortunately, she’s a less than compelling presence and continually told what to do by her much more competent male counterparts.

Like Airport, this massively successful next installment doesn’t throw up enough stiffs. In addition, it falls between two stools. It fails to grip as straight drama yet isn’t campy enough to snigger along with, despite so many of its scenes providing juicy fodder for Airplane! It gives the impression of being on autopilot, especially as it’s essentially the same movie as its predecessor: a damaged plane needs to land.

Heston’s garish turtleneck is also a constant distraction.



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